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A Brief History of United States Forestry

From Pleny to Gifford Pinchot

By

Written in 1662, John Evlyn's Silva was probably the first book published on silviculture. The Interregnum and English civil war caused a crises for sources of wood and threatened the restored monarchy. The Royal Society commissioned Evlyn to draw together as much pertinent information about cultivating trees as quickly as possible.

Evlyn modeled his "Discourse of Forest-trees and the Propagation of Timber" after Pliny the Elder's Book XVI of his Natural History . Pliny was a Roman warrior and intellectual. His Natural History was history's first written attempt to define and catalogue nature. It was actually used as the source for most scientific knowledge during the middle ages.

German Heinrich Cotta (1763-1844), who is often called the “pioneer of forestry”, established one of the first private forestry schools in 1811 in what was called the Forestry Town of Tharandt near Dresden. It later became the Royal Saxon Forestry Academy. Cotta studied forestry all his life and has had a profound influence on the profession of forestry and foresters in Europe.

Several quotes from Cotta's Preface in “Anweisung zum Waldbau”:

On the need for foresters: There would be no physicians if there were no diseases, and no forestry science without deficiency in wood supplies.

On why forestry is backward: The forester who practices much writes but little, and he who writes much practices but little.

On the "good" forester:The good forester takes the highest yield from the forest without deteriorating the soil, the poor one neither obtains this yield nor preserves the fertility of the soil.

Forestry In the New World:

Europe's hunger for wood and increasing European settlements had a major impact on the American forest. A year after the Mayflower arrived, the Pilgrims sent a ship named Fortune back to England "laden with good clapboard as full as she could stow." That was the beginning of thousands of ships filled with logs and lumber bound to other countries. Domestic wood was consumed in staggering quantities. Wood was the major source of energy, was the building material of choice, was the fencing material of choice, and was nearly as important as food to the settlers.

No real effort to manage trees, practice forestry or conserve the American forest took place until midway through the 19th Century.

In 1847, George Perkins Marsh , then a U.S. Congressman for Vermont, published an "Address Delivered Before the Agricultural Society of Rutland County, Sept. 30, 1847" . This was the first awareness paper that advocated a conservationist approach to the management of forested lands. Marsh went on to publish Man and Nature; or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action . It was revised in1874 as The Earth as Modified by Human Action , the first systematic analysis of humanity's destructive impact on the environment

New England continued to advance the conservation ethic when Henry David Thoreau delivered an address to the Concord (Massachusetts) Lyceum declaring that "in Wildness is the preservation of the World." In 1863, this address was published posthumously as the essay "Walking" in Thoreau's Excursions . In 1854 Thoreau goes on to publish Walden; or, Life in the Woods .

A great review of 19th century forestry can be found at The Library of Congress. Even as there was a raising of conscience about the American forest, a frantic mining of American trees continued. Read more about this era in American forestry at these links: 1847-1871 | 1872-1889 | 1890-1900

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